Across the country, state and local leaders have implored their residents to follow guidelines meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — then, in some places, those very same leaders have proceeded to break their own rules.
In the past week alone, politicians in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles County and Denver were implicated in incidents that transgressed best practices and government prohibitions.
While official hypocrisy is nothing new, some worry that when leaders flout their own public health guidance, it not only puts them at risk, but it also undermines the herculean effort of persuading people to follow rules that have them increasingly fatigued.
“I understand my obligation as a public official to provide exemplary compliance w/ public health orders, & not to ignore them,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a tweeted mea culpa Tuesday. “I commit to do better.”
The week before, Liccardo had convened a socially distanced Thanksgiving meal at his parents’ home, which brought together eight people from five households — three more than California’s health department regulations permitted. This after Liccardo had urged on Thanksgiving Eve: “Let’s cancel the big gatherings this year and focus on keeping each other safe.”
NBC Bay Area reported the lapse, and Liccardo apologized. He was far from the first caught in the act.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock advised residents to “Pass the potatoes, not COVID” and “Avoid travel, if you can” during the holiday week. Then, an hour later, he took a cross-country flight for Thanksgiving with his family.
In Los Angeles last week, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted to ban outdoor dining, calling the practice a “most dangerous situation” and saying it was “a bit of magical thinking” to believe restaurant staffers were able to stay six feet away from diners as health experts recommend.
Then, just hours later, she was spotted eating outside at one of her favorite Italian restaurants.
Four hundred miles and three Michelin stars away, the lure of fine dining also created public relations headaches for two of California’s most prominent politicians.
On consecutive evenings, Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed traveled to Napa Valley for birthday dinners at the French Laundry, a venerable and pricey eatery where reservations are famously hard-won.
The dinners occurred in early November, a time when Napa County allowed indoor dining and did not specify a cap on the number of households that could gather. However, state guidelines discouraged such gatherings and limited them to three households, a boundary that Newsom’s party of 12 appeared to breach. It was less clear how many households were involved in Breed’s eight-person party, which a spokesperson called a “small family birthday dinner.” The gathering was revealed only on Tuesday.
The San Francisco Chronicle first reported both stories.
“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said at a news conference after the report surfaced. “Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back out to my car.”